At what age should I wean my child?

Weaning is a personal decision between each mother and baby. While at one time experts recommended that women wean by a certain age, this is no longer the case. Studies show that the longer a woman breastfeeds the more she reduces the risk of many illnesses to her child (such as childhood cancers) and risk of illness to herself (lower risk of breast, ovarian, and cervical cancer). The current recommendations in the United States and worldwide are to breastfeed a minimum of 12 months, and preferably until the age of 2 or beyond. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of 12 months or as long as mutually desirable. They refer to a study that looks at the normalcy of extended breastfeeding in the United States through ages five and six and are in accord with other experts to allow them to wean naturally.

Some babies have a stronger need to nurse longer, and it still continues to be beneficial for the child. The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF recommend that all children, in both developed and undeveloped countries, be breastfed a minimum of two years, or beyond, and acknowledge that the average age of weaning worldwide is about four years old. One study indicates that breast cancer in the United States could decline by 25% if all women would breastfeed their children for at least two years. Thus, the benefits are not just for the child. Because of the recent research showing the benefits of breastfeeding longer, mothers are now encouraged to engage in "child-led weaning," which means mothers will know from their child's cues when they are ready to wean.

We like to think of weaning as a cooperative process between mother and baby. Sometimes mother is ready to wean and baby is not. At this point, patience is a real plus. When you observe that your baby seems satisfied when you offer to do other things in place of nursing, like eating, drinking, holding, or being read to, then these may be signs your child is ready to wean. We do recommend that the weaning process be gradual and not traumatic for the baby. You may need to give your baby a lot of undivided attention during the weaning process before it is successful.

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